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Cooling Conflict
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A husband makes a cutting remark to his wife. She fires back a critical comment. He reacts with sarcasm. She spouts off a barrage of jabs. And so it goes back and forth until he withdraws into the basement to work on his favorite hobby and she locks herself upstairs in her sewing room. At bedtime, not a word is spoken between them. It’s as if a barbed-wire fence is strung across the middle of the bed.

Does that sound familiar? Conflict in marriage is inevitable. But how you handle these problems does not always have to follow the same useless avenues that never work. You can choose to practice a few “rules for fighting” than can help bring back unity and harmony. It’s not easy to change how you think and behave, but with repeated effort these steps will become more natural.

The first rule comes straight from the Scriptures: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). In plain English, that means, don’t go to bed angry with each other. This doesn’t mean you will get your issues all ironed out before going to sleep, but it does suggest that you cool down and commit to not avoid the issue but work on it at a later specified time. Don’t let any “root of bitterness” spring up and “cause trouble” (Hebrews 12:15).

Biting Your Tongue

Second, practice biting your tongue. James accurately describes how this little part of our body can do a lot of damage quickly. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). John Gottman accurately predicts what brings most couples to divorce by noticing if they use words of contempt toward each other. Never mock your spouse or call them names.1

Third, cool off if you must but don’t completely run away from the problem. Men can especially get worked up and overwhelmed in marital conflicts. Just take your pulse during a battle and know that with your heart beating wildly you probably are not in the best condition to think and talk wisely. Go for a walk. Take a shower. Sometimes it only takes 5-10 minutes to calm down. But commit to come back and try again.

Finally, sweeten your interactions. A little sugar on top can help make a big difference. That can happen through well-timed humor, using affectionate words, stating your commitment to your spouse, validating good points, learning to listen, and speaking more quietly. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

Rules are helpful in all marriages. They help make it safe to be honest and increase the likelihood of resolving problems so that unity can be restored.

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION ©.

1 http://www.gottmanblog.com/2013/05/the-four-horsemen-contempt.html

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